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Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics: The Pros And Cons of Two Soilless Farming Methods


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Hydroponics and aquaponics are both soilless agricultural systems that give significantly high yields with minimum inputs. By completely

eliminating soil as a growing medium for plants, and by avoiding wastage of water into the ground, these intensive methods make localized food production sustainable and profitable, in spite of scarcity of water and fertile land.


Hydroponics is a time-tested method widely used for growing tomatoes and lettuce in greenhouses. The plants are grown directly in a water-based solution containing all the essential nutrients required by them. Inert media like pebbles or clay pellets are sometimes used for supporting the plants. The absence of soil completely eliminates disease-causing soil organisms and weeds. Consequently, labor, as well as the use of use of herbicides, is greatly reduced. The controlled environment protects the crop from most of the air-borne pests. Occasional infestations and fungal infections can be tackled effectively by targeted use of pesticides and fungicides.

Hydroponics typically uses only 20 percent of the water required for traditional cultivation. Periodical replacement of the nutrients-depleted water is the main recurring cost. Electrical conductivity of the solution is monitored daily to maintain optimum nutrient levels. The solution has to be changed when chemical imbalance is detected. Energy requirements include the aeration and pumping of the solution every 4 to 6 hours. Hydroponic culture can be done indoors under artificial lighting, but, while it makes year-round production of food possible, it pushes up the energy bill.


Aquaponics is a complex cultural method that evolved as an effective solution for the recycling of the waste generated in aquaculture. Based on the wetland ecosystem in which plants and animals support each other, the nitrogenous waste produced in the aquaculture of fish, prawns or clams is used as fertilizer for plants grown hydroponically. Aquaponics enlists the help of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and worms to breakdown the fish waste into nitrates and nitrites that can be absorbed by the plants. The resulting clean water is then recirculated into the aquaculture tank.

The main input in an aquaponic system is fish food besides the power for the running of the electric pumps that recirculate the water round the clock. Since the water loss, mainly from transpiration by plants and evaporation into the atmosphere, is minimal, replenishment is needed very rarely. This reduces the water requirement of aquaponics to about 2 percent of that of traditional cultivation.

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Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics

Even though both the methods qualify as high-yielding systems that maximize space utilization and considerably reduce the dependency on water, each system has certain advantages and disadvantages:

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The bottom line

Easily set up indoors or outdoors, hydroponic units can be run successfully by following the instructions such as daily testing of the electrical conductivity and responding to changes in the prescribed way. Since it does not require additional expertise, even a novice can have excellent results.

Being the more sustainable and profitable system of food generation, aquaponics is the future of alternative agriculture. Even though the initial cost of setting up a complete system is higher, once established, it runs like clockwork with minimal recurring inputs.

Imbalances in an aquaponic system are rectified by adding either more fish to meet additional demand for nutrients, or more plants for enhanced cleaning of the water. Thorough understanding of the symbiotic relationship between all the components is necessary to take appropriate decisions.